Massively just posted the rather depressing news that Funcom has missed both of its investor targets with The Secret World and that the company's share price has "lost half its value" in recent days. The full Funcom Investor Relations Update is here.
This is obviously not what Funcom's investors want to hear and it's bound to be depressing news for players who, like me, are really enjoying the game. It's also bad news for anyone who wants to see more innovation and risk-taking in MMO development. Funcom allude to this in the statement when they say "A game like The Secret World, which is not based on a well-known brand, is normally dependent on positive press reviews to achieve successful initial sales".
They're putting what are presumably lacklustre sales down to, among other things, a less-than-stellar Metacritic score of 72%. Now, 72% is by no means a bad score but neither is it a "must buy". It suggests something solid but unexceptional. It wouldn't put most people off buying something they were already interested in but neither would it prompt the average browser to get his wallet out.
|You want some, Metacritic? Eh? Do you want some?|
That's no consolation to Funcom. Apparently many prospective buyers do use tools like this to help them make purchasing decisions and a poor or mediocre score there can have serious financial implications. The MMO seas are very choppy right now and even some big ships are taking on water as EA/BioWare demonstrated so emphatically.
There is a definite silver lining to this stormcloud, however. Funcom emphasize that the satisfaction rating of people actually playing the game is significantly higher than the Metacritic score, running at 84% when measured by Metacritic and MMORPG.com User reviews. This, they speculate, may lead to greater customer loyalty and "a more stable subscriber base". More stable than what? Age of Conan. Hmm...
Well, at least Age of Conan is still running. So is Anarchy Online, for that matter. But both have Freemium payment models. There's no mention in the statement of anything along those lines in TSW's immediate future. Instead there's mention of a number of other positive revenue trends. Nevertheless, I can't but think that some form of Freemium model must be on the cards sooner now rather than later. With GW2 and Mystery of Pandamonium just around the corner, TSW as a subscription-only MMO can only get harder and harder to sell.
|Make it and we will buy it.|
Fortunately, Funcom have been around a while and they don't have all their irons in the one crack of hellfire. I'm confident they will weather the disappointment, adjust and carry on. I believe that when I have time to come back to The Secret World it will still be there. It'll even have grown some.
Well, I hope so. Whatever you think of TSW itself, it represents a brave attempt to do something at least somewhat different in a genre that appears increasingly bored with its past yet scared of its future. Such attempts, especially ones that over-achieve aesthetically even if not financially, need to succeed.
Otherwise its all about the pandas and no-one wants that now, do they?